Whose game is it anyway?

This weekend, I refereed three under-9 boys soccer games (6v6) in a local tournament. At one point, there was confusion between the tournament rules and normal rules, so I stopped the game briefly to clarify with a tournament director. After roughly 10 minutes, the tournament director returned and changed the rules again.

At the second stoppage, the coaches argued about goals scored earlier in the game. They complained to the tournament direction and argued with each other. I thought about intervening, primarily to explain how we were going to finish the game.

At that point, one player, hand on hip, yelled toward the benches and said, “Can we just play?” I listened to the player, gave up on the coaches, and called the players together in the middle of the field to explain the rules for the rest of the game. I finished and asked if anyone had questions. They had no problems. No player asked about a previous goal. They didn’t care. As the player said, they just wanted to play.

Later in the day, I had one of the teams again. The team was winning 3-1 with roughly two minutes left in the game. The losing team was awarded a corner kick. The field had a small hill at the end of the field, so the ball continually rolls down the hill. The losing team did not hurry after the ball, so the same player as the first game ran after it, even though it was the other team’s kick. He just wanted to play.

As soon as he took off running, dozens of parents shouted at him to stop. He ignored them. Once he retrieved the ball, they implored him to slow down or to drop the ball and let the other team get it. He ignored them. He ran the ball back to the field and dropped it in the corner for his opponents.

This happens more often than not in these games. Coaches and parents teach players time-wasting tactics, but the players just want to play. When coaches start to substitute on every dead ball to waste time, you can see the players get frustrated. Players try to sprint off the field, and the coach yells at them to walk.

Like this boy, I do not think that they run off the field or get frustrated with the tactics because they do not care about winning. This boy was the best player on the field and scored five goals between the two games. It was clear that he wanted to win. He was competitive. However, he also wanted to play. After all, that is why he signs up for soccer: To play soccer. Not to win soccer. To play soccer.

This is another advantage of informal or pickup games. The players are in control, not the referees or coaches. The players can settle the rule issues quickly and get on with the game. The players can play rather than time-wasting for a competitive coach. These tactics are for the parents and coaches, not the players. But, why do we have the games? Whose game is it?

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

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